Don’t expect to breathe easily until the last page of Neil Spring’s claustrophobic new thriller has turned… from the chilling opener through a twisting, turning mystery and on to an electrifying finale, The Burning House is a journey of deceit, darkness and the blackest of black magic.
Spring, whose paranormal debut novel, The Ghost Hunters, was adapted for an ITV drama in 2015, once again turns to real-life history for his wickedly entertaining new thriller which blends fact and fiction with the finesse and creative imagination that we have come to expect from this exciting author.
The inspiration for the story came from the ruined and burned-out Boleskine House which stands ‘lonely and brooding’ close to Loch Ness, and really did suffer an unexplained fire in 2015. ‘As an edifice to the macabre and all that is mysterious, there are few locations in Britain to equal it,’ says Spring.
A year ago, Clara Jones finally ditched her abusive, violent and controlling husband Karl, gave herself a new look and new name, and fled from London to Scotland to find safety and sanctuary.
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She is now working as an estate agent in a village near Loch Ness, a place ‘where suspicion died hard, constantly haunted by swirling rumours of “something” in the loch.’
The problem is that she hasn’t completed on a sale for seven months and is running out of money to pay her rent. Worried that her dangerous ex might be on the brink of finding where she is hiding, she needs to make a commission soon or lose her chance to escape.
Boleskine House has remained unsold for years and a potential buyer from London is baulking at the one and a half million pounds price tag.
Clara is sure that an ‘innocent’ fire will force down the price and so she does the unthinkable… sets fire to it herself, just enough to damage the east wing, in the hope that a reduced price will clinch the sale.
But the perfect crime soon turns into the perfect nightmare because there was a witness to the fire, a man who is a stranger in the village. Oswald Cattenach regards the ‘squat and sullen’ Boleskine House as ‘special.’
He likes its quiet, isolated and private location, its desolately rugged landscape and its ‘unsavoury reputation’ as the scene of a string of gruesome and violent deaths… accidents, suicides and murders.
Oswald has plans for the house, he knows the fire was arson, and he’s not going to let Clara get away with it that easily...
Legend and superstition, disturbing domestic issues and black magic jostle perfectly together as old secrets rise to the surface and the enigmatic Oswald pulls Clara deeper and deeper into his terrifying schemes for the cold, creepy and cursed lodge.
And the sinister Boleskine House certainly is the star of this highly-charged, edge-of the-seat thriller which fuses an atmospheric landscape – rendered breathtakingly dark and menacing – with nail-biting tension, deadly intrigue, and a skin-crawling layer of supernatural horror.
But, as always, Spring’s attention to detail when it comes to characterisation is superb… each leading player is portrayed with an impressive depth of psychological insight, adding power, suspense and credibility to a fast-paced chain of shocking events.
With a stunning twist in the tail and an undercurrent of menace running right through its middle, The Burning House is gripping, all-round entertainment… but only to be read during daylight hours!
(Quercus, paperback, £7.99)